If you regularly submit to magazines, agents, or publishers, you know that an error-free manuscript has a much better chance of getting accepted. In addition, if you plan on self-publishing a book, it helps if you clean up those grammar mistakes that can make it look unprofessional. Below are some of the most common mistakes that rough drafts can have; it helps to clear them up in the rough draft stage and will make you a better writer.
Dialogue. If your character says something, it should be enclosed between quotation marks.
CORRECT: “See this? It’s my dialogue,” said Cindy . (Notice that the exact words Cindy said are within the quotes. There is a comma after her last sentence, THEN the end quotes and THEN the speaker.
WRONG: “See this? It’s my dialogue.” Said Cindy. (Often, writers mistakenly put a period after the last sentence of dialogue and THEN add the speaker. This makes ‘Said Cindy’ appear to be a complete, stand-alone sentence. However, it can’t stand alone as a sentence because we need to know what it is that she said.
CORRECT: “See this? It’s my dialogue.” Cindy pointed to the words in quotes. In this instance, I’ve left out tagging the speaker for my dialogue. It’s implied that Cindy is speaking because she is referring back to what was said.
COMMON MISTAKE: If you accidentally put a period at the end of your dialogue, the word processor thinks your sentence is finished. That often leads to the mistake above, and the word processor will automatically capitalize your next sentence.
Addressing people. This is an extremely common mistake. If a character speaks to another person by name, it should be set apart by a comma. I’m going to use a common example that I’ve seen on humor sites to show how it can change the meaning by not using a comma.
CORRECT: “Let’s eat, Grandma,” Billy said. Billy is talking to Grandma. She gets a comma in front of her name because she is being addressed.
WRONG: “Let’s eat Grandma,” Billy said. We’ve now turned Billy into a cannibal wanting to eat his own grandmother.
CORRECT: “Hey, guys! Let’s drive to town!” shouted Amanda. Amanda is talking to lots of people, aka addressing lots of people. They get a comma.
WRONG: “Hey guys! Let’s drive to town!” shouted Amanda. No, she’s not a cannibal in this instance, but there should still be a comma.
Titles. The following words have a period after their abbreviations: Mr. Mrs. Ms. Dr. The exception is Miss. Miss has no period after it unless it is at the end of a sentence.
CORRECT: Mr. Pibb and Dr. Pepper stepped out of the elevator. They immediately saw Mrs. Dew, Ms. Lightning, and Miss Crawford. No period after ‘Miss.’
WRONG: Miss. Crawford immediately fainted. This turns ‘Miss’ into its own stand-alone sentence…which is not a complete sentence. The reader immediately is told to pause afterward, which interrupts the flow of the narrative.
Its vs. it’s. It’s really very simple. If you can replace the words in your manuscript with “it is,” then you should use the one with the apostrophe. The apostrophe symbolizes leaving out the extra i in “is.”
CORRECT: It’s not fair! We use the one with the apostrophe because if we substitute in the words “it is,” the sentence still makes sense. “It is not fair” is the same thing as “It’s not fair.”
WRONG: I grabbed the book by it’s cover. If I substitute “it is,” the sentence makes no sense: I grabbed the book by it is cover. Therefore, we need NO apostrophe.
You may be thinking, “But what about the apostrophe showing possession?” Yes, it does…but only with nouns and proper names, i.e. John’s book, Alicia’s car, the baby’s rattle.
These are just a few of the mistakes that end up spelling rejection for aspiring writers. It’s good to correct them before submitting. Most agents and editors won’t keep reading submissions that are riddled with errors such as these.
That being said, is your manuscript going to be perfect? Probably not, but at least you can polish it up to the best of your ability and increase your chances of acceptance!